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Sudan: Peace deal to unlock oil wealth in the balance

IN THE peaceful setting of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, home to one of the world’s largest flocks of pink flamingos, one of the world’s long running civil wars is being brought to an end.

Oil-rich Sudan stands to make a gigantic leap forward if final negotiations between its government and southern rebels this week can produce a comprehensive settlement.

The two sides meet on Tuesday, and have said they will stay at the talks until they agree on a deal to end the devastating 21-year civil war in the south in which more than two million people have perished.

They are already a long way down the road, having signed six protocols in which they have agreed how to share power and wealth in Africa’s largest country and what to do with their armed forces during a six-year transition period.

The conflict broke out in 1983 when the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army from the mainly animist and Christian south took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim north.

The insurgents say they are fighting for better treatment and for southerners to have the right to choose whether to remain part of Sudan.

Under the proposed peace deal at the end of the six-year transition period, the South will vote in a referendum on whether to secede.

Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir is to remain head of state while rebel leader John Garang will become first vice-president. Among the issues still not settled are a final, internationally-monitored ceasefire agreement and a timetable for implementing it.

This week’s negotiations will focus on power-sharing arrangements, setting up a joint military observation of the ceasefire, and the number and location of observers, according to senior officials in Kenya.

The ceasefire calls for the deployment of up to 120 observers in Darfur to be led by the African Union. The European Union has allocated 12 million euros to the mission.

Despite optimism that a comprehensive agreement to end the war will be reached soon, it could be months before it is clear whether the diplomatic solution is being honoured on the ground. Rogue government and rebel militias who prowl rural areas are hardly accountable to higher authorities.

If the deal does come off it will be a triumph for international pressure, especially from the United States.

Rebuilding devastated southern Sudan will cost billions of dollars that Sudan cannot afford to pay for itself. But Sudan hopes for substantial debt relief once a southern deal is signed, as well as an ending of US sanctions. Both moves would boost foreign investment in a country which is potentially oil-rich.

Despite the war, the Sudanese economy has grown solidly, helped by rising oil exports which last year were about 300,000 barrels a day, and should reach 600,000 barrels per day next year.

However, potential Western donors are expressing mounting concern about the fighting in Darfur in western Sudan, warning that it could derail the southern peace agreement if it is not stopped.

The governor of the central bank of Sudan, Sabir Mohammed al-Hassan, said last week that a negotiated peace in the civil war in southern Sudan would not endure if donors used the fighting in the west as a reason to withhold much-needed aid.

"If Darfur is used as an excuse not to support Sudan, then the peace will not be sustainable," he said in Cairo. "You need the support of the international community."

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